Alaska Day Festival 2023 – Dressed Sitkanians wait to participate in the moving ceremony of Sitka’s Castle Mountain on October 18, 2014. (Creative Commons photo by John Pennell/US Army)
A huge ensemble from Moscow is heading to Sitka this week for the Alaska Day Festival — or not.
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The proposal to send 68 artists, support staff and camera crews to Sitka emerged just three weeks ago as a result of diplomatic contacts with the local historical society.
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Hal Spackman, director of the Sitka Historical Society. Less than a month later, he had a lengthy — and somewhat eccentric — email exchange with Russian event promoter Alex Chupilkin.
First 85 people, then 55 people, now 68 people. The Cossacks — some possibly on horseback, natives of Alaska — plan to return to battle with dancers, acrobats, orchestras and children’s singers from the Bolshoi Theater.
At first Spackman thought it might be a scam. But his attitude changed when he received a more reasonable letter from the promoter.
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“And I got a call on my cell phone from the deputy consul general from Russia saying he’s coming on Friday and he knows they’re coming too.”
That’s how things go. 68 Russians may be in Sitka in the coming days for the Alaska Day Festival. Spackman ordered them to find a room at a local hotel and took extra precautions.
“The historical society is recruiting two Russian speakers involved in the tourism industry to be here when they arrive.”
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But on Thursday night, no venue other than the Performing Arts Center was booked. Spackman wants to do more, but doesn’t want to tie the city’s limited representation seats to something that remains somewhat of a question mark.
The big question is why? Tensions between the US and Russia are currently high as Russia increases its military presence in Syria. US military forces are also active there – especially in the air – and the risk of inadvertent collisions is high.
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“And there’s all this speculation: Why would they spend so much money to come here? Because they didn’t ask for a bill. Is this just a big PR move? What’s the idea? Are they doing it with the idea that the United States is bad for not being invited? ? Will they show up?” he said. “Whatever it is, I hope he’s in a good mood and in a good mood, because frankly, Sitka and all of Alaska is very soft on the Russians. I think they see it the same way we see Valley Forge or to Plymouth Rock. It’s an exciting and exciting time for them.”
So Spackman is optimistic that Sitka can rise above the international frenzy and fully host singers, dancers, children’s choirs, military bands, Cossacks — minus the horses, if they can pull it off. He is looking forward to seeing them on parade, but says there won’t be room for everyone to attend the handover ceremony on Castle Hill. Sitkanians celebrate Alaska Day with music, memorials and more: Alaska Day in Sitka isn’t just a weekday—it’s a weeklong extravaganza filled with more than just one day of events.
For many Alaskans, Alaska Day is just another holiday. But for Sitkans, it’s the biggest social event of the year — and they’re so busy in the week leading up to Oct. 18 that it’s impossible to make it.
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Billings, Montana resident Kern Purcell visits Alaska almost every season, so she was excited to cross Sitka’s Alaska Day celebration off her 2019 bucket list. She gained the most experience by photographing volunteers in period costume greeting guests at the airport, choosing her own vintage dress for the Alaska Day Ball and participating in a chili cook-off.
For decades, Alaska Day’s Keystone Cops have participated in every event, collecting “fines” in exchange for buttons to help pay for the festival. (James Paulson / Daily Sitka Sentinel / Visit Sitka)
But you don’t need to clean up to get the most out of Alaska Day—the annual holiday is designed to be as active, relaxing or thoughtful as you want it to be.
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Alaska Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States in 1867. The transfer took place in Sitka, the colonial capital of Russia, and every year the Southeast Alaskan community goes to celebrate its role. in the history of the state. Like Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage and Golden Days in Fairbanks, Alaska Day in Sitka features fun and festive events with a historic backdrop that reflects the holiday’s 19th-century roots.
Alaska Day week begins with the swearing in of the Keystone Cops, volunteer ambassadors who sell booster buttons to raise funds for the celebration (and identify those who receive a big red lipstick kiss on the cheek). The Seattle Firefighters Pipes and Drums usually fly in early to visit schools and then spend the weekend playing at rallies around town. The Sitka Historical Society hosts a beer cruise, a school clinic presented by the 9th Army Band, a sea and air rescue demonstration by the US Coast Guard and an Aboriginal celebration. Russian Orthodox churches sell fish pies and fried bread, while Lutheran churches sell pies. Guest speakers, community concerts and social events round out the schedule.
“It’s a fun time,” said Alaska Day Celebration Committee Chairman Ted Alio. “Everyone in town can find something to fit into our schedule.”
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Kern Purcell’s tour began with a dress fitting, with the Alaska Day Committee benefiting from a collection of period ensembles available for rental. Other guests appeared in their own 19th-century holiday dresses, military uniforms or traditional Alaskan regalia. Although she faced some logistical challenges — skirts from the 1800s weren’t made for 2000s cars — Kern Purcell said she enjoyed the opportunity to dress up.
“You know, when you’re in high school, you go to prom, but when everyone’s wearing these beautiful vintage dresses and the men are either in military uniforms or old suits — and the army marching band was great,” Kern said. Purcell said. – Of course, there were drinks, snacks and all that. They had a contest to see who was best dressed for the occasion.
Students from the Sitka Native Education Program perform at the historic hall of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. (James Paulson / Daily Sitka Sentinel / Visit Sitka)
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After dancing the night away at the Alaska Day Ball, Kern Purcell was up bright and early for the annual parade, filled with everything you’d expect: marching bands, military, decorated cars and classic cars.
“It was a really great parade,” Kern Purcell said. “Right after that I went to the top of Castle Mountain to watch the handover ceremony where they renewed the handover of Alaska to the United States. When I got there, the Coast Guard was there demonstrating air and sea helicopter rescue operations. Good! It was very cool to watch.”
That same day, Kern Purcell organized a military memorial at Sitka National Cemetery, a Tingit dance performance at an Alaska Native fraternity hall and a chili cook-off, among other events — and he knows he didn’t even make it. at each event.
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“A lot happens in a day and a half,” Kern Purcell said. “We moved from one activity to another. It was great. It went by too fast.”
Efforts have been made in recent years to include and honor Sitka’s Tlingit experience. For members of the Kiks.ádi clan, Alaska Day marks the transfer of their traditional lands from one colonizer to another.
Now, a growing number of Sitkans celebrate October 18 as a day of reconciliation and recognition of the impact of historical trauma on Alaska Natives. In 2017, a mass mourning ceremony was held at the base of Castle Mountain, and in later years it expanded to include a procession up the hill where the strategic Tlingit fort once stood. Now known as the Reunification Ceremony, the event reflects the hope of many Sitkan residents that Alaska Day will continue and reflects the experiences of the area’s original residents.
Alaska Day Festival
The Alaska Day Parade is the largest parade in Sitka, with hundreds of participants, including the crew of the US Coast Guard. (James Paulson / Daily Sitka Sentinel / Visit Sitka)
In 2020, a new and equally historic event replaced Alaska Day when the global pandemic forced the cancellation of some events. This year, the organizers began to find out
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